Watcher. That was a title rich in irony, Angel thought. Giles might call himself a Watcher, but he really saw very little. His eyes were so focused on Buffy in her role as the Slayer that he saw nothing else. Nor did he want to. What happened outside the realm of the library or cemetery held no interest for him at all, counting to him as meaningless in the 'World According to Rupert Giles.' And unless Willow was hacking into the computer that Giles disparaged, along with her skills, yet constantly required, Giles seemed to barely notice that she existed. Nor did her other teachers…or her friends. Unless they needed her for something, no one seemed to notice whether Willow was alive or dead.
But Angel did. More than anyone else did. And he ached inside. Tonight, he had noticed, the sweet, gentle redhead seemed sadder than usual, more withdrawn, more alone. She had begged off Bronzing with her friends, assured them she was fine walking home alone, and headed off by herself. Angel had followed her shortly thereafter, telling Buffy that he wanted to make sure she got home safely. Buffy had kissed him, telling him that was so sweet of him, wanting to protect her friend, a friend whose sadness she hadn't even noticed, and urging him to come back after he had made sure Willow got home.
Angel knew he wouldn't go back, though. Buffy might be his destiny, but she was a destiny he was less delighted to embrace with each passing day. Sure, it felt wonderful to be wanted, even loved, by a human…a Slayer no less. It made him feel so much less like the ruthless demon he hated himself for having been and more like the man he wished he was. But did she have to be such a self-centered, thoughtless human? If she was the love of his unlife, why wasn't she more loveable?
Thoughts like that would get him nowhere, Angel sighed as he trailed discreetly behind Willow while she walked home, unaware that she had a shadow. A minion made to attack her from out of the darkness at one point, but the sight of Angel's true face, eyes flashing gold in warning, was enough to deter him and send him off in search of other prey.
And then they arrived at Willow's house. Willow's cold, empty house. Dammit, were her parents ever home? Didn't they care about their own daughter? Obviously not, or they wouldn't leave her alone and unprotected so much of the time. No wonder Willow put up with the same treatment from her teachers and her so-called friends, being ignored and cast aside was what she knew best.
Angel wanted desperately to go to her, to hold her in his arms and tell her that she would never be alone again. But he couldn't. He had a destiny to fulfill and two centuries of horrible crimes to atone for. And he couldn't allow himself the luxury of getting involved with the pure, innocent creature whose bedroom window he was currently peering into in secret.
Buffy was a Slayer, she could take care of herself and handle the demon he had once been. She was the one for him, he told himself once more, not the shy, quiet beauty now sadly entering her room, dressed in an oversized sleepshirt. But Angel still couldn't tear himself away from the window.
He watched as Willow opened the drawer to her desk, pulling put a package of confetti and a novelty party whistle. Angel watched in confusion as she opened the confetti, took a handful of it, and threw it up into the air.
"Happy Birthday to me," Angel heard Willow sing softly.
Then she blew on her noisemaker, wiped a tear from her eyes, mumbled something to herself that he couldn't quite make out, and got into bed.
As she turned out her light and quickly fell asleep, Angel wiped tears from his own eyes. Her friends had forgotten her birthday. And Willow just accepted it. Accepted that no one cared enough about her to even remember her birthday. Angel's heart broke for the poor girl as he stared at the confetti that lay scattered across the floor of her room. Wishing that he could do something to take away Willow's loneliness, and knowing that he couldn't.